Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Advertising's Next Gen"

Businessworld recently published a very interesting cover feature about 10 talented youngsters to watch out for in the field of advertising. Read the story here.

"Why Avatar is bad for the movies"

After I watched Avatar in 3-D recently, I was convinced that 3-D is the future of movies. Then I read the cover story in Newsweek by Roger Ebert, one of the world's foremost film critics. "I hate 3-D," he writes, "and you should too". He makes a compelling case, I have to say, as he lists nine points in favour of his argument. Here's his first point:

IT’S THE WASTE OF A DIMENSION. When you look at a 2-D movie, it’s already in 3-D as far as your mind is concerned. When you see Lawrence of Arabia growing from a speck as he rides toward you across the desert, are you thinking, “Look how slowly he grows against the horizon”? Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.

Read the full piece here to get into the mind of a brilliant movie analyst.

From Wimbledon, a wonderful description of "the longest, strangest, darnedest tennis match ever played"

Tom Perrotta of The Wall Street Journal was there at Wimbledon to witness American John Isner and Nicolas Mahut of France slug it out over three days. He begins his report with a six-word intro. Then come the statistics. Followed by an account of the end of the game and a poser about what the marathon tussle means for tennis. Read the full piece here.
  • AT SECOND REFERENCE: In our newspapers the policy is to use full names at first reference in a news report or feature, and the last name at second reference. The policy of WSJ is to use the salutation "Mr." (or "Miss" or "Ms." as the case may be) at the second reference. Hence these constructions in Perrotta's article:
On match point, Mr. Isner belted a backhand winner, dropped to the court and screamed. Moments later, he embraced a sullen Mr. Mahut, who hadn't lost a game on his serve since the ninth game of the first set of this first-round match. That was Tuesday.

  • So what happens when Perrotta has to mention Isner and Mahut together? Take a look:
Messrs. Isner and Mahut did more than play for days and delete pages and pages of records. They put Wimbledon at the top of the sporting world (even with a certain soccer tournament going on). On Thursday, these two men were no less a story than Queen Elizabeth II, who hadn't paid a visit here in 33 years.

Apologising to readers

Journalists can make mistakes. They are not infallible. And when mistakes are made that are considered serious by newspapers, a correction is mandatory.

Here is Mint's policy on corrections and clarifications:
Mint welcomes comments, suggestions or complaints about errors.

Readers can alert the newsroom to any errors in the paper by emailing us, with your full name and address, to

It is our policy to promptly respond to all complaints.

Readers dissatisfied with the response or concerned about Mint’s journalistic integrity may write directly to the editor by sending an email to asktheeditor@

Mint’s journalistic Code of Conduct that governs our newsroom is available at

And here is the Corrections & Clarifications box from Mint's June 26 issue:

Click here and go to the anchor item on Page 1 of the Sunday Times (Bangalore) e-paper of June 27.


It is the policy of The Hindu to correct significant errors as soon as possible. Please specify the edition (place of publication), date and page.

The Readers' Editor's office can be contacted by Telephone: +91-44-28418297/28576300 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday);

Fax: +91-44-28552963;


Mail: Readers' Editor, The Hindu, Kasturi Buildings, 859 & 860 Anna Salai, Chennai 600 002, India.

All communication must carry the full postal address and telephone number.

No personal visits.

The Terms of Reference for the Readers' Editor are on

And here are the corrections published on The Hindu's Op-Ed page of June 29:
Corrections and Clarifications

An entry in a graphic “Women at the helm” (“International” page, June 26, 2010) said “Philippines — Gloria Arroyo, President; Since 2004”, leading to a query. Ms. Arroyo is still the President. On June 9, 2010, the Congress of the Philippines proclaimed Benigno S. Aquino III as the President-elect of the Philippines. He will take the oath of office on June 30, 2010 as the fifteenth President of the Philippines, succeeding Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Abdolmalek Rigi was 31 years old. The second paragraph of “Behind Rigi's hanging” (Editorial, June 24, 2010) said he was 26.

The heading of a report “Worst has passed: UAE ruler” (“International) page, June 27, 2010) should have said “... Dubai ruler”. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who made the statement, is the Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, which is one of the seven Emirates.

The heading of a PTI report (June 27, 2010) was “Man shot at by kin of girl he was to wed”. It should have been “Man shot at by wife's kin”, as mentioned in the text.

The UID is a 16-digit number, and not a 12-digit one as mentioned in the first paragraph of a report “LIC to act as registrar for UID project” (“Business” page, June 10, 2010).

UPDATE (April 11, 2012): An apology to readers, Economist-style CORRECTION: In our piece on California water last week, we claimed that a softball is four times the diameter of a tennis ball. In fact, it is only 50% bigger. Time we got out of our armchairs. The Economist, April 7th-13th, 2012

Monday, June 28, 2010

Publishing grisly photos

Should newspapers print photographs that can upset readers? Should television news channels show pictures of a graphic nature? Should media websites provide links to "death photos"? These questions do not have pat answers, as senior journalists will testify.

Last June, after a Thai newspaper published what it said was a photo of actor David Carradine's body found hanging by ropes in a Bangkok hotel closet, Al Tompkins of Poynter Online weighed in on the issue by explaining why the "alleged Carradine death photos should not be published". In the article, Tompkins also threw light on the decision-making process that goes on in newsrooms regarding the inclusion of graphic content.

Tompkins also provided a link to Pearl Photo: Too Harmful, a piece by his colleague Bob Steele on the ethics of such decisions. Steele wrote his column after a Boston paper published "horrific pictures" of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Both articles give us much to think about.

Still on the subject of photos that can upset readers, Time magazine on June 21 published a photo feature titled "Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone: The Story of Mamma". Subtitled "One woman's journey from pregnancy to death", the feature comes with a warning: "Please note that this gallery contains graphic content."

Was Time justified in publishing these pictures? Let me know what you think.
  • Here, meanwhile, are the letters re: "The Story of Mamma" that Time published in its issue of July 5:
While I appreciated "The Perils of Pregnancy," about Mamma Sessay, I take offense at the pictures. Showing this woman at her most vulnerable was disrespectful. Would these photos have been cleaned up if she were not a poor African woman?
Tola Abe,
Raleigh, N.C., U.S.

Your piece on Sessay's death during childbirth brought tears to my eyes. The piece made me scared for the millions of women in the world who lack medical care. How long will we cry for our women?
Abdul Sebiotimo,

Please let me know what I can do to help Sessay's family or another family avoid the same fate.
Angela Bolds,
Lawton, Okla., U.S.

ALICE PARK RESPONDS: CARE and UNICEF, which accept individual donations, have excellent global maternal-health programs.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Photo finish

Anantha Subramanyam K., photo editor of DNA, Bangalore, won the first runner-up award at the Canon India contest for press photographers earlier this month. In DNA of June 4, he wrote about the picture that got him the prize; he also elaborated on the professional demands made on photojournalists today. A must-read for media students:

‘Awards are just a part of the profession’

‘A photojournalist should never go to an assignment with a preconceived idea as he would not know what exactly he’s in for. It’s only on reaching the spot that he can look for opportunities and make plans.’  — This is what a senior photojournalist had told me when I was new to this field. And today when I look back I realise that his words were true to a great extent.

Back in those days, we used film (as opposed to the digital system we use today) and had to be very careful with our shoots as we did not know the fate of our photos until the film was developed. And, today, even though we have the advantage of looking at our shots before they come in print, the challenges and expectations have only increased. Not only does the newspaper expect great work from us, we also constantly strive to achieve perfection.

In a typical setup, page editors and photojournalists meet to discuss what the best shots are after the photos are taken. But in DNA — where I work now — things are different. There is continuous planning about the subject we are dealing with, what kind of pictures we are looking at, etc., etc. Whether the article is big or small, pictures are given a lot of importance in DNA — and I like it this way. And, as my senior journalist friend had said, things can’t always go according to plan, and even here, despite all the planning and advance detailing, we have the flexibility to shoot differently as per the spot. I feel that this exercise teaches a photojournalist how to think on his or her feet during assignments as well as be disciplined to a large extent.  And, since DNA gives a lot of importance to pictures, a photojournalist here has more responsibilities.

The picture that won me the 1st runner-up award is of the prime minister addressing party workers from the dais. There was hardly any room for creativity as the security was very tight that day. But I didn’t give up and then it struck my eye — the low lighting on the PM’s face and an illuminated backdrop of Sonia Gandhi. I knew the picture itself conveyed what I had seen.  It depicted the real scenario — Sonia Gandhi stealing the limelight, as always. The picture showed the irony very clearly — PM, the ‘man in control’, in the foreground while his ‘Remote Control’ raises her arm in the background.

I usually look at others’ pictures to understand how I can improve mine further. Whether it is a senior photographer or a newcomer, I respect everyone’s talent and try to learn from the same. Ultimately, what matters is whether  you can make readers look at your photos or not — once that is achieved, the purpose is served.

Also, I don’t think there can be any training for how to shoot an award-winning-picture; awards are just a part of the profession and not the profession itself.
  • Courtesy: DNA (go to Page 8)

An ode to reading

Everyone who knows me knows I am crazy about books. I have been reading books since I was, what, five or six years old? And like many of my generation (those were the days before Harry Potter) I began with Enid Blyton's stories and progressed rapidly to Alistair Maclean, Arthur Hailey, Desmond Bagley, James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie, and that master of the English language P.G. Wodehouse.

I have bought a lot of books in my time. In fact, books call out to me (I think), which is why I have many books at home that I have bought but not yet found time to read. I also buy books intuitively. Four non-fiction books that occupy the pride of place on my bookshelves — Here At The New Yorker, Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker: The Invisible Art Of Editing, Just Enough Liebling and The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight — were purchased because they had a connection to New Yorker magazine, because they were about writing, about journalism. I often buy fiction the same way. Once, after having read and enjoyed Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell, I went to Landmark and bought the whole series — a total of nine books featuring the iconic Inspector Kurt Wallander.

But last year I became a member of the fabulous Just Books library chain and now, for just Rs.150 per month, I get to read all the books I want, two books at a time. Now I only buy the books I really, really want to own (for which I keep visiting my favourite online bookstore, Flipkart.)

I believe you are what you read. I also believe you have to be a good reader if you want to be a good writer. So at Commits, I am always trying to get our students to read the wonderful books in the college library. I also lend books from my collection. And many students seem to like the books I recommend. That is why I was especially pleased to receive this email yesterday from Commitscion Sumith Sagar (Class of 2009):


Hello Sir,

I wanted to tell you that I have started reading books and have taken it up earnestly. :)  Reading has become a serious activity now. I read all kinds of books — economics, management-related, novels, short stories, and many more — in both English and Kannada.

I wanted to thank you for making me read the first book of my life. I still remember the day you gave me that book — The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Frankly, I did not understand much when I read it. But then you had the patience to sit with me and ask what I liked in it, what I found good or bad about the book.

And I can never forget Tuesdays With Morrie, one of my most favourite books. I must thank you for giving me that book because bad books can make one stop reading completely but you kept it going by giving me exactly what I wanted to read.

You might be thinking, "Why is Sumith writing about this to me now?" There is a reason. I came across an article which made me remember you (that does not mean I do not remember you otherwise). Because it was you who made me read books. I would like to share that link with you and let you know how happy I am to have read that first book given by you.

Here is the link: My Father's Son.

We will discuss more about the books I read when I come to college. :)

Thank you once again, Sir.

Take care.



I am very grateful to Sumith for taking the time to write in and for enabling me to discover a heartwarming appreciation of the joys of reading. In My Father's Son, veteran journalist and cricket writer Prem Panicker, who was one of the founders of and who is now Yahoo India's managing editor, tells us how he happened to fall passionately in love with reading. The post is also a Father's Day tribute by a son. Here's an excerpt:

Several times, in course of my twenty-odd years as a journalist, I have had people write in and tell me that they thought a particular article I had just written was well expressed, or passionately written, whatever.

And, each time, my mind would flash back to my father. To how he taught me to read and, in the process, inculcated in me a love for words and for writing. And in my heart, I would feel an immense gratitude for that moment in time when he locked up all my beloved comics and left Doctor Sally on the living room table.

"My Father's Son" is a treat to read and you'll know when you scan the more than hundred comments that I am not the only one who thinks that.

Thank you, Sumith. Thank you, Prem.

AJAY U. PAI, my 15-year-old nephew, commented via email: I wanted you to know that reading books requires awareness more than anything else. The so-called Next Generation seems to be drifting away from the dreamland created by books. Book lovers are named 'Nerds' or 'Bookworms'.

Nowadays even people who read books seem to be singing the same tune. No one wants to read and be termed a nerd and humiliated in class.

Can we ever reverse this trend and live happily ever after in our world of books? Is this possible?

Good point, Ajay. I know many young people who find reading a strain, or worse, a bore. That is probably because no one encouraged them to read when they were children and, sadly, when they were growing up there was little incentive to spend time on books given the distractions of the computer, video-game, and television (distractions that did not exist when I was a child).

But I have found that people who are averse to reading even in their twenties get to like, if not love, books once they realise that books can make a difference to their lives and careers.

Books give us enormous pleasure. And books help to broaden our minds. They help to improve our vocabulary, increase our knowledge, stimulate our creativity. Novels transport us to a world that exists only in the author's imagination and as we read on that world becomes ours too. Non-fiction works in a different way by giving us a new perspective on our world as it exists.

We learn from Sumith Sagar's experience above that it is never too late to begin reading books.

But imagine what a head start you get when you begin young. Why would you want to shrug off this first-mover advantage? So never mind what others say (though that is probably easier said than done). It's your life, your choice. If books give you pleasure, and much else, then spend as much time with books as possible. I am confident YOU will be the beneficiary.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Why our media can't explain India"

When Prime Minster Manmohan Singh held his first press conference last month in the country in four years this was the first question he was asked:

“Sir, mera naam Umakant Lakhera hai. Main Hindustan, jo Hindi akhbar hai, uska Dilli mein chief of bureau hoon. Pradhan mantriji, mera aap se yah sawal hai ki aap se pehle Bharat mein jitne bhi pradhan mantri hue hain, economy ke baare mein vey log bahut zyada nahin jaante the. Yah desh ki khushkismati hai ki aap economist hain aur aap ne azadi ke baad ka, Bharat ki economy ke utar-chadhav ka, bahut lamba samay dekha hai. Mera aap se yah sawal hai ki aaj price rise par control kyon nahin hai? Aisa kyon hota hai ki inflation kam hota hai aur mehngai badhti hai? Pehle ke zamaney mein mantri jab bayan dete they, to agley din mehngai ghat jati thi, aaj aisa kyon hota hai ki aap ke jo ministers hain, aapke mantri jo bayan dete hain, uske agle din mehngai badh jaati hai? Aisa kyon hota hai ke economy sarkar ke control mein nahin hai aur aam aadmi ka zinda rehna mushkil ho gaya hai? Common man ko lagta hai ke sarkar ke niyantran mein cheezein nahin hai. Economy ka jo slowdown hai aur jo mehngai hai, aap us par apne vichar prakat karein.”

Compare that with the opening question asked by Washington Post owner Lally Weymouth, who interviewed Singh last year: “You are (US) President Obama’s first official state visitor. What would you like to accomplish in Washington?”

It's no wonder then, writes Aakar Patel in his thought-provoking column in Mint Lounge, that our prime minister is not at all keen on engaging the Indian media.

Read the brilliant piece here.

And then, for another (not very positive) take on Aakar Patel's column, read this post by Outlook editor Krishna Prasad on sans serif, the most interesting blog by an Indian journalist.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How much do you know about e-mail etiquette?

Richard Baum of Reuters, in a column published in Mint, tells you how to deal with some common dilemmas, including this one: "A colleague is angry because I forwarded an e-mail from her without asking her for permission. Was I wrong?"

Read the column here.

Speaking of etiquette, Mint has also published a handy guide to the dos and don'ts of Twitter. Here's an excerpt:
Bottom line: Watch what you say online because word travels fast. Although Twitter is relatively new to India, it is rapidly racking up users: according to Alexa, India is the world’s third highest user of Twitter, and the site is already the 13th most popular in India.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The best Indian podcasts

I follow Rajdeep Sardesai on Twitter. One of his recent tweets led to my discovering Indicast, in my opinion the best Indian website for podcasts. Media students will love Indicast and our audiovisual communication students who need to produce a radio feature in the third semster will get some good ideas  check it out here.

And listen to one of my favourites (descriptions from the site):
In this podcast, Rajdeep Sardesai takes us back to his school days and talks passionately about his cricket, table tennis, and quizzing before drifting into journalism after studying law at Oxford University. His dad, Dilip Sardesai, comes to life in the conversation when Rajdeep talks fondly about the values that he grew up on.

Rajdeep started his career at a time when television was yet to make its debut and in his words, "Journalism wasn't as glamorous as it is today. There was a lot of drudgery involved." Rajdeep reasons out why the quality of modern journalism has been in decadence. Yet he is hopeful that this only presents an opportunity for some interesting stories to be told. He believes that news channels will soon be judged on their credibility and integrity and not on how much noise they  can make. He also uses strong words against the "quick fix" journalism that Indian media indulges in under the veil of "investigative journalism".

Like an experienced Test match opening batsman, Rajdeep Sardesai plays it safe in the "V" until the 9th minute and then cuts loose without mincing words in the slog overs right until the last minute.

(About seven minutes into the interview, Rajdeep talks fondly for some time about his "educational visits" to the newsroom of The Afternoon, the newspaper I helped to launch in Mumbai in 1985.)

A-1 advice from an author

A few months ago we had a distinguished guest at Commits: Anjum Hasan, poet, writer, communications consultant, now books editor of The Caravan magazine, and author of the two popular novels Lunatic In My Head and Neti, Neti.

Anjum had a long session with the First Years where she talked about her work and about fiction-writing in general. She also read a few excerpts from Neti, Neti. The two hours went by so quickly that there was no time at the end for some of the questions that the students had for Anjum. So we sent her the questions by email and she very graciously answered each of them:

Hi Ramesh,

Here are my answers to your questions. I don't have all the answers, of course, not even most of them. But it's always fun to participate in any conversation about writing. Thanks for the opportunity!


a. Why don't you write your stories in the first person?
I don't usually use the first person; it helps to write in the third person to see your characters more objectively. Unless all your stories are about yourself (which they ideally should not be) I would recommend avoiding first person. Even if the story is about yourself, use third person to see how it sounds - there'll be lots of things that seem perfectly convincing in first person but silly in third person.

b. How much research goes into your characters? For instance, their jobs (Sophie's job as a “sub-titler” in Neti, Neti), the way their homes are decorated, etc.
It's not as much research as curiosity. As a writer, you're often dying to know what people's lives are like and if you can't imagine them, then you have to find out.

When you develop characters like Sophie, you tend to get under their skin, you tend to "become" them. Does it take you very long then to cast them off and become yourself again?
I'm quite happy staying with characters, and when I finish with one I can't wait to get into the skin of another. I would get quite desperate if I had to spend all my time with myself!

It's common knowledge that true writers are never satisfied with what they have written. How did you come to the conclusion that the material in your two novels was the best you could publish? Or, where did you draw the line and say, "That's it, this is what I'm going to publish"?
I think there is a creative dissatisfaction and a non-creative one. The creative one allows you to let go of one book but write the next one so you can test yourself all over again. The non-creative one makes you hold on to one text for too long. I think it's good to be dissatisfied and self-critical but not to the extent that it cripples you. Also the opinions of others - editors, writers, readers - do matter. So if they feel a book is ready to go, perhaps it is. But as writers we continue writing books because we're searching for that elusive perfection.

a. Is there a discipline of writing and reading I have to develop every day if I want to be a writer?
Like I said at the talk, fiction writing is driven by passion and pleasure. Discipline comes afterwards. The only good reason to write is because you desperately want to. If this is your starting point, the discipline will follow. Yes it can be hard to switch on your computer and stare at a blank screen but that's the risk you have to take.

b. I have only recently taken up reading and I find it very difficult to write. I have problems writing simple news reports and features. Is there a solution?
I think reading is a great teacher. So do keep up with that even if it goes slowly. As for writing, practice and persistence. How about keeping a diary and recording your daily impressions and thoughts? Or writing down what you thought about a book. Or running a blog. Doing this more personal kind of writing might help you with other kinds. Also, when you're starting out don't be afraid to imitate. One learns through imitation and slowly develops one's own style.

c. Do you suggest any must-reads, e.g. Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, which will help me improve my style?
There are no must-reads, though the classics are classics because they've stood the test of time so you will only gain by reading them. But go with your instinct. If you liked one kind of book, maybe you could read more books in the same style/genre. Read reviews - you don't have to agree with everything a reviewer says but at least they'll give you some sense of what a book is about.

d. Any other suggestions you would like to give me to improve my reading and writing skills? Thank you for your time.
Don't be afraid of criticism - use it constructively. And writing is a process. If you write a little every day, eventually it'll all add up.

That’s excellent advice from Anjum, all of it. And we’re very grateful to her for making the time to come to Commits and for answering the students’ questions in such detail. 

When sources do not want their names to be revealed...'s one way to explain to the reader why you have agreed to grant them anonymity:
Markand Adhikari, the promoter of the television production house, Sri Adhikari Brothers Television Network Ltd, is launching a music and comedy channel called Mastiii with stand-up comedian Raju Srivastava as its brand ambassador. The channel, to be launched by the end of the month, will offer a mix of general entertainment (mostly comedy shows and spoofs) and music, said a media executive familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement is made.

This is from a Mint news feature by Anushree Chandran on the upcoming launch of a new television channel.

Also from Mint (July 3):
Rishad Premji has an MBA degree from Harvard Business School and joined Wipro on 18 July 2007 in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) business after working with GE Capital and Bain and Co. “He was very interested in the security vertical of our BFSI practice and was involved in a couple of key mergers and acquisitions activities, including the acquisition of Gallagher Financial Systems Inc. in the US,” said a senior official of the firm, who did not want to be identified given the way Wipro views succession. The executive added that Rishad Premji’s appearance in the annual report is one way to make him known to the larger shareholder community of the firm.

Read the article about Azim Premji's succession plan at Wipro here.

Journalism and 'the words of power'

More and more today, we journalists have become prisoners of the language of power.

Is this because we no longer care about linguistics? Is this because lap-tops 'correct'  our spelling, 'trim' our grammar so that our sentences so often turn out to be identical to those of our rulers? Is this why newspaper editorials today often sound like political speeches?

Let me show you what I mean.

Excerpt from an address by Robert Fisk, The Independent newspaper's Middle East correspondent, at the fifth Al Jazeera annual forum in Doha on May 23. Read the full text of the address here to understand why Fisk is making it clear that journalists should have no truck with "rulers", whoever they may be.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Prepone" is now in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary

And to think of the number of times I have corrected students using "prepone" when they meant "brought forward" or "advanced"! Now they will throw the book at me.

This nugget of information came from V.R. Narayanaswami's recent column on the English language in Mint, titled "English, made in India".

Here's an excerpt:
Whenever a new edition of an English dictionary is released, people start commenting on the number of new Hindi words that have got into the lexicon. The 11th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary added 80 words from Hindi. “Prepone” has been accepted, and “slumlord” and “jai ho” are more recent candidates for entry.

More interesting to me are English words created in India or reshaped from existing words, and given new meanings. That reveals the versatility and adaptability of English words. After prepone, next in line might be “trifurcate”, which is what chief minister Mayawati wants to do with Uttar Pradesh.

Read the full column here.

When an email provides a tip-off

In a story in Mint on June 1 about a Godrej executive facing an embezzlement charge, the reporter Joel Rebello wrote about his source thus:
A Mint reader, who requested that his name be not used, provided information about the case in an email sent on Sunday. The fraud surfaced when the jewellers approached GCPL after Gaine couldn’t be reached in February, prompting the firm to seize his laptop and start an investigation, a company spokesperson said.

Read the full story here.